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HR’s growing role in transforming the maritime industry

The maritime industry was core to Singapore’s early growth and will continue to be an important pillar of Singapore’s economy. However, due to its longstanding history, some view the industry to be a traditional and backward one especially in today’s digital world, where artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and automation have become commonplace. In the face of stiff competition from other dynamic industries that are considered “sexy and faster paced” by the younger generation, talent attraction is a challenge and also an opportunity for the maritime industry to push for innovation and change.

In addition to its global nature and importance, the maritime industry presents many opportunities for career development and growth. However, this information has to be made known in order to attract, engage and retain people who are hungry to shape the future of the industry, according to Taneal Roach, Global Head of Human Resources of The China Navigation Company. In fact, Human Resource (HR) functions in companies are one of the key factors in determining how the public, and more importantly, employees and potential employees view the company and industry.

In this light, more than 100 changemakers and industry thought leaders gathered at the annual MSC Connexions Forum organized by the Maritime Singapore Connect (MSC) Office at the close of 2018 to discuss the future of talent attraction and retention in the maritime industry.

At the forum, it was clear that the HR functions in companies would need to lead the strategic front in innovating and collaborating for talent development and retention. Maritime companies have implemented practices such as mobilizing technology for e-learning orientation modules and allowing employees to work remotely. These practices are functional steps towards creating a company culture where employees feel that their needs are heard, and are also pull factors for potential hires.

When it comes to attracting talent, companies tend to look at statistics such as compensation, benefits and growth opportunities to differentiate themselves from the rest. However, Sharon Teo, General Manager of Eastport Maritime believes these are insufficient as “there is this aspect of the human element which is not communicated in statistics.”

While social media now plays a larger role in employer branding and talent attraction, the development of a company’s brand via word-of-mouth is still thought to be an effective recruitment strategy since this includes the human element. Sharon’s advice on attracting new talent in the face of fierce competition was to “let the employees tell their stories. When employees share how they have changed, how their lives have transformed – these will be very compelling stories.”

Besides attracting the brightest minds, training is crucial. “The biggest investment a company can make is in its people,” stressed Taneal. This forms the backbone of her company’s management trainee programme, which has helped nurture a healthy pipeline of future leaders. One example would be the recent appointment of a dedicated, tech-savvy HR Advisor, who had gone through the two-year management trainee programme and rose through the ranks. Currently, this management trainee alumnus manages the company’s management trainee recruitment programme, providing potential new hires with more direct, personal and proactive engagement.

Workplace loyalty was another topic discussed at the forum. When it comes to workplace loyalty or the lack thereof, it is often referred to as a problem with the Millennial Generation. In order to learn from best practices, Kuok Singapore interviewed their pioneer employees to understand what had kept them in the company all these years. The one thing everyone spoke of was the idea of being in a family.

“Family means that the company cares about me, for my future, for my development.” – Melissa Kee, Chief Human Resources Officer of Kuok Singapore Limited Group, on what pioneer employees described as their reason for workplace loyalty.

In the face of digitalization and transformation, maintaining the human element is ever more essential, and this is where HR leaders will play an increasingly important role. Melissa believes that “the employee experience is important because if we treat our employees with care and compassion, they would be willing to put in discretionary effort to deliver their best at work, which will then translate into productivity and performance for the company.”

Although HR has growing importance in transforming the maritime industry, HR functions cannot work alone. Efforts from organisations such as the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), Singapore Maritime Foundation (SMF) and MSC Office, a unit under SMF, also play a vital role in helping to raise the profile of the maritime industry. “From a practitioner’s perspective, we truly appreciate what SMF has done in terms of organising activities on various channels, such as social media and outreach campaigns, to drive talent attraction and develop human capital. This strong collaborative effort with companies has been very successful in building up the profile of the maritime industry, especially among the young people. Participation in such activities are valuable resources that companies can tap on,” as Michael Goh, Chief Corporate Services Officer of Jurong Port brought up, making reference to his company’s partnerships with SMF and MSC Office.

One thing I appreciate about this industry is the collaboration with organisations like MPA, SMF and MSC Office, that has been working so closely with us as practioners in terms of driving talent attraction activities and raising profiles through various social media etc. Therefore, the collaborative effort came across very strongly and has been very successful in building up the profile of the maritime industry among the young people.

From talent attraction to retention, companies and their HR functions need to continually adapt and reshape in order to keep the organization forward looking and relevant. It starts with perception, but also involves good training programmes, the human element and partnerships with relevant stakeholders. Only by doing so can we attract bright young talents into the maritime industry, paving the way for transformation.

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The Maritime Singapore Connect (MSC) Office is a national initiative, supported by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, to profile the maritime industry and connect students and jobseekers with the multiple pathways into the industry.

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